By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. NOTE: This story was written remotely. Ed.(21-Apr) — After more than two hours of running in cool and windy conditions, only four women remained in the hunt for victory at today’s TCS London Marathon.  The pace had been fast (1:07:04 at halfway), and any of the four –Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir and Joyciline Jepkosgei and Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa and Megertu Alemu– could not only get the win but also break Mary Keitany’s women-only world record of 2:17:01 set at the same race in 2017.  The African quartet was on pace to run in the 2:16 range.The advantage seemed to go to Assefa, holder of the pending world marathon record of 2:11:53, who competed in the 800m in the 2016 Rio Olympics.  But Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic Marathon champion, was not intimidated. In the final 800m, she zigged to her left, broke away from her three rivals, and sprinted to the finish line alone in 2:16:16.  That put her seven seconds up on Assefa (2:16:23) and eight seconds ahead of Jepkosgei (2:16:24), giving a podium sweep to their kit sponsor, adidas.  Alemu was fourth in 2:16:34.  It was Jepchirchir’s first win at the TCS London Marathon.

“I’m grateful; I’m so happy,” Jepchirchir said in her post-race interview. It’s unbelievable. I was not expecting that.”

Her victory today assures her selection for the Kenyan team for the Paris Olympics.  She was already on the Athletics Kenya preliminary list of six women, and last October won the World Athletics Road Running Championships in the half-marathon.  Jepchirchir said that she had earned her place on the team with today’s performance.

“When I crossed the line, I knew I was going to defend my title in Paris,” Jepchirchir said.

The men’s race produced a shocking result.  Ten men went through halfway in 1:01:29, but all but two –Kenya’s Alexander Mutiso Munyao and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele– remained in the lead at 35-K.  Bekele, 41, trying for Olympic team selection for the fourth time, had broken up the race after the 30-K mark on the strength of a 4:35 for the 19th mile.  But Munyao eased away from the Ethiopian legend before the 40-K mark and finished alone in 2:04:01.  Bekele crossed next in 2:04:15, improving his world masters record by four seconds.

“I’m happy to win today’s major marathon, which is my first major marathon,” Munyao said, referring to the Abbott World Marathon Majors series, of which London is a founding member.  He continued: “At 40 kilometers, I see Kenenisa left behind a bit, some meters.  I get a lot of confidence to win the race.”

Bekele, whose career seemed to be over several times in the last ten years due to injuries, was grateful to notch another quality performance on a big stage.

“It was great,” Bekele said, surprised at his performance.  “I would be happy to win the race, very close.  After 35 (km) I feel my lower back a little bit pull up, so.  I’m happy.”

While the race‘s big stars –like Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola, Seifu Tura, and Leul Gebresilase– fell apart in the second half, Britain’s Emile Cairess held steady after coming through halfway in 1:02:50 in 13th place.  He moved up through the field, and by the time he reached the race‘s majestic finish on The Mall, he was in third place, the first British man to make the podium in London since Mo Farah in 2018.  His 2:06:46 made him the second-fastest British man of all-time (behind only Mo Farah), and assured his selection for the Paris Olympics (he also ran 2:08:07 in London last year).  He could have run faster, he said, had the weather been a little better.

“I wanted to run a quicker time,” said Cairess. The conditions were not right today; some areas were very windy and quite gusty. But I’m really happy to come third. I just snuck into third; I wasn’t up there fighting with the guys.”

Fourth place went to another Briton, Mahamed Mahamed, who, like Cairess, ran a more conservative first half (1:03:38).  He clocked 2:07:05 and positioned himself for likely Olympic team selection (he is only the third British man to make the qualifying standard of 2:08:10).

“To finish fourth in the London Marathon is amazing for me,” said Mahamed, a gifted cross-country runner. He continued, “The main thing is to qualify, to get the time, and to go to Paris, which is a dream come true.”

Switzerland’s Marcel Hug (1:28:35) and Catherine Debrunner (48:41) won the wheelchair titles.  Debrunner beat another Swiss athlete, Manuela Schär, by over two minutes.